Thursday, September 27, 2018



When the moon underwent an eclipse and turned blood red last January 31, a man from Luta told me that the old people have a saying : gai pilan.

The prefix gai means "to have" and when joined to another word it modifies the first vowel in that word if the first vowel is an A, O or U. So when gai is joined to pulan, pulan becomes pilan. Gai pilan.

There are at least three meanings of the word pulan.

The first is the moon. That leads to the next meaning. A month is basically from new moon to new moon, so "month" is pulan. Even in English, the word "month" is connected to the word "moon."

Finally, pulan can also mean "to watch over," as when someone watches over a baby, or guarding a house, or to watch over a sick person. We can only speculate why our ancestors used the word for "moon" for "watch over." Maybe it's because, in the darkness of night, the moon guides our path in the darkness when the moon's light is full.

So, gai pilan can mean....

A woman's menstrual period. Even the English word menstrual is connected to the Latin word for "month" which is mensis.  So when a woman is going through that time of the month (pulan), people can say of her gai pilan.

When someone is mentally "off." All over the world, all across different time periods, people have associated mental illness with the moon. Many people believed in the moon's effect on people's moods, mental states, fertility and so on. The English words lunacy and lunatic come from the Latin word for "moon" or luna. Many mentally ill people were pictured staring or even howling at the moon.

So, when someone is mentally "off," as perceived by others, people can say that the "off" person is gai pilan. Somehow the moon has affected that person's mental state.


Pulan is found, in many variations, in dozens of other Austonesian languages, meaning "moon."











Tuesday, September 25, 2018



In 1903, a good number of Sumay landowners sold land to the US Navy.

Sumay had been revived as a village sometime in the 1840s, perhaps even earlier, when whalers decided to anchor in Apra Harbor rather than at the old galleon trade port of Humåtak, which had ceased to be active when the galleons stopped coming to Guam because of Mexican independence from Spain in the 1810s. Even before the end of the galleon trade, Apra Harbor, more than Humåtak, was becoming the favored anchorage.

The Spaniards were well-aware of Apra Harbor's military significance. Forts were built on Orote Peninsula in the 1700s and the most prominent one, Fort Santa Cruz, was built around 1801 right in the harbor itself, on an islet in the shallow part of the harbor.

But the US Navy had bigger and more ambitious plans for Apra Harbor and the land surrounding it. Since Spanish times, the harbor was known as "San Luís de Apra" and even that was often misspelled by the Americans.


These plans for military expansion in and around Apra Harbor meant the acquisition of land on the Orote Peninsula outside the village of Sumay. Federal money was allocated for the project, as seen in the 1903 newspaper clipping above.

In 1903, the US Navy began buying land just south of Sumay village. The landowners were residents of Sumay and typically sold one to three hectares of land to the Navy. That's a good amount of land, considering that a typical modern house in the urbanized villages of Guam sit on less than an acre of land. One hectare is roughly equal to two and a half acres.

On Orote Peninsula, there were many specific areas with their own names, now long forgotten except for the older, former residents of Sumay who used to own land there and farm there.

One of the Sumay land sellers to the Navy in 1903
Photo courtesy of Sidro Torres

The sellers, arranged by place names, were the following :

IN HALOMÑA (also spelled Jalomña)

Nicolás Cruz Díaz
Gregorio Blas Mendiola
Mariano Dueñas Ulloa


Sebastián Baleto
Guillermo Fejaran Lizama
Martín Taitano Dueñas
Ignacio Mendiola Cruz
José Cruz Quintanilla
Tomás Sablan Camacho


Ramón Tello Dueñas
Francisco Guzmán Sablan
Vicente Ulloa Sablan


José Camacho
Heirs of Félix Díaz Sablan

IN ATOTDAN (also spelled Atordan)

José Camacho
José Lizama Santos
Antonio Santos Dueñas
Carmelo Guzmán Guerrero
Martín Taitano Dueñas
Ignacio Mendiola Cruz
Heirs of José Quintanilla Dueñas
Heirs of Félix Díaz Sablan

Monday, September 24, 2018


A story told to me by a 90-year-old man.

Dies ham na mañe’lo. Guåho mås påtgon na mafañågo yo’ gi 1928 na såkkan.
(We were ten siblings. I am the youngest, born in 1928.)

Lao entre hame i dies, singko man måtai nene yan singko ta’lo
(But among the ten of us, five died as infants and five again)

man maolek mo’na i dumångkulon-måme.
(were fine growing up.)

Ma sangåne si nanan-måme na man måtai i fine’nana singko na famagu’on
(They told our mother than the first five children died)

sa’ pot gai defekto i lechen nanan-måme.
(because our mother's milk was defective.)

Ti nahong sustånsia para u nina’ fan lå’la’ i famagu’on annai mañususu.
(There wasn't enough nutrition to give life to the infants when they were being breastfed.)

Pues hame i uttimo singko na famagu’on ma na’ fan gimen ham Carnation Milk
(So we last five children were given Carnation Milk to drink)

ya ennao muna’ fan lå’la’ ham.
(and that's what made us live.)

Thursday, September 20, 2018


Isabelo Francisco Guevara had a farm up in Ukkudu. In one field he grew suni (taro) and in another he grew kamute (sweet potato).

December, January and February were not good months for his kamute. He noticed how damaged they were, so that he could expect no harvest of sweet potato that year.

Not far from his farm was that of another man, José Iriarte, better known as "Boyok." Boyok raised pigs and Guevara went to court, claiming that Boyok's pigs ran loose and damaged the kamute. Pigs are known for sticking their snouts into field plants and digging up what they think they can eat.

Here's an imaginary court session, based on the court records :

Guevara : Your honor, Boyok's pigs are responsible for these damages to my crops.

Boyok : Your honor, that is impossible because my pigs are always either tied or kept in a pen.

Guevara : Your honor, I ask that you suspend this hearing until we can gather witnesses. Some are sick and the others live far away from the city in their ranches, so we need some time to call them.

Judge : This hearing is in recess until witnesses can be gathered.

Some days later, the court was reconvened and Guevara presented three witnesses, who all testified that they saw Boyok's pigs digging in Guevara's kamute field.

Boyok presented one witness, named Joaquín Cruz.

Cruz : Your honor, one night I was passing through Guevara's fields and saw benådo (deer) digging up the ground in Guevara's kamute field. There are many benådo in the wild and they come out at night.

Guevara : Your honor, I question the impartiality of this witness, as he is related to the accused.

Judge : This hearing is suspended until Joaquín Cruz Pérez and Ramón Borja de León Guerrero, Jueces de Sementeras (Agricultural Field Inspectors) can inspect Guevara's field and give us a report.

Some days later, the two inspectors make their report.

Judge : Let the record show that the field inspectors state that they inspected Guevara's field and have determined that there are signs of both deer and pig disturbance there. They also inspected Boyok's farm and found nine swine. Two were tied and the other seven were inside a pen. The inspectors also state that it is impossible to determine the value of loss in Guevara's field.

The judge made a decision.

Boyok's pigs were responsible for the damage and determined a fine that Boyok had to pay Guevara, to be substituted with other forms of payment in case Boyok did not have the cash.

I suppose the testimony of three witnesses who claimed to see Boyok's pigs in the kamute field swayed the judge.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


A Bill of Sale at a Guam store in 1902

What did mama buy over a hundred years ago?

"Stores" as we know them today did not exist in the Marianas for most of the Spanish period which lasted around 230 years. The missionary priests handed out many things in the beginning, and then the Spanish Governor controlled the sale of imported goods for many years after that.

By the 1800s, though, more foreign ships were making trips to the Marianas for various reasons. Some of them brought things to sell. Towards the end of the 1800s, some individuals sold imported merchandise from their homes. Right as Spanish rule was ending, the Japanese expanded their commercial activity in the Marianas, opening small stores in Guam and Saipan. Under the US Navy, foreign and then Chamorro entrepreneurs established modern stores on Guam. The Northern Marianas became very active in commerce, almost all controlled by the Japanese.

Fabric was one item always in demand in the Marianas. Our islands weren't able to supply the need for fabric. Spanish Governors, at times, even paid the soldiers and government clerks in fabric rather than in money.

In this Bill of Sale at a Japanese-owned store on Guam in 1902, we see the following fabrics being sold to a Chamorro customer :

Caranclan. This fabric was known as gingham in English-speaking places.


Gingham, or caranclan, was popular among the women who made their skirts with caranclan. Look at this photo of a Chamorro woman wearing the mestiza dress using caranclan.

Cambray. Among those who speak English, this fabric is called chambray. This was a thicker fabric, and would be used for trousers, for example.


Monday, September 17, 2018


The Jungle where the spirits dwell

Manhålom gi halom tåno' si Chåro', Ling yan unos kuåntos na famagu'on 
(Charo, Ling and some children went into the jungle)

para u fanmanespia tinanom para åmot. 
(looking for some plants for medicine.)

Gotpe ha' do'do' si Chåro' ya magåhet na fotte i pao-ña.
(Suddenly Charo passed gas and the smell was truly strong.)

Ilek-ña si Chåro', "Ling. Seguro na guaha taotaomo'na guine gi uriya."
(Charo said, "Ling. For sure there is a spirit around here.")

Mamaisen si Ling, "Haftaimano tungo'-mo?"
(Ling asked, "How do you know?")

Manoppe si Chåro', "Adda' ti un nginginge' i pao-ña?"
(Charo answered, "Can't you smell its odor?")

Taotao (person/people)

Mo'na (ahead, front)

Taotaomo'na - the people who were here before us, from the past, whose spirits still inhabit the land

Thursday, September 13, 2018


Juan Crisostomo left Guam with 13 other young men in 1902 for San Francisco, California.

He was only 17 years old; born around 1884.

According to records upon his arrival, he had no job waiting for him in San Francisco, nor relatives to pick him up. More than likely, the 14 Chamorro men on the journey stuck together, or at least in smaller groups, for a while until they went their separate ways finding work and lodging.

Juan had $10 in his pocket when he landed in San Francisco. In the US, he also went by the name of John.

Unfortunately, Juan was arrested in San Mateo, California (not far from San Francisco) in 1918 and charged with manslaughter. This usually means that someone killed another with either no intention of killing, or in the heat of the moment. It is a less serious offense than murder.

He was found guilty and sentenced to no more than 10 years at San Quentin prison.

He must have gotten sick, as he died in prison in 1921 while still serving his sentence. RIP

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


You would never think!

But yes; Chamorros served in the military during the American Civil War (1861 to 1865).

But if you remember that young Chamorro men were leaving Guam as early as the 1820s to sail as crew members on the whaling ships, many (if not most) of them never returning home, it begins to make sense.

The whaling capital of the United States in the early 1800s was New England, the northeastern corner of the country including Massachusetts and the neighboring states. Some Chamorro whaling men took up residence in New England and other Chamorro whaling men would happen to be there for a time, waiting for the next whaling expedition. So, when the Civil War broke out in 1861 and soldiers were needed, there were Chamorro whaling men living on the East Coast who joined the Union forces. Many times these Chamorro recruits were substituting for Americans who wanted to avoid going to war. These Americans would pay their substitutes a handsome fee.

Now, before we get to the names, some things to keep in mind :


Researchers have come across some records, but not necessarily all records. When new records are found and looked through, we might find new names of recruits from the Marianas.

One thing that makes it a challenge to identify Chamorros in these records is that they sometimes did not say they were from the Marianas (or Ladrones). They sometimes said they were from Spain, since the Marianas were under Spain. A smaller number of people would say they were from the Philippines, since the Marianas were a part of the Philippines while both were under Spain in the 1800s. Thus, a record could show that a person was from "Spain," when, in fact, it is a Chamorro from the Marianas.

Since many Chamorros have Spanish surnames, it's hard to tell if a man listed as being from Spain is actually a Spaniard or a Chamorro with a Spanish name. Since many Filipinos also have Spanish surnames, that makes it all the harder to tell. If a man named Taitano (or another indigenous Chamorro name) is listed as being from Spain or the Philippines, we can be almost certain he is actually a Chamorro who comes from the Marianas which were under Spain (and a province of the Philippines when it was under Spain).


The names included here all joined the US Navy. This should not be a surprise since almost every Chamorro recruit got to the US in the first place as crew members on the whaling ships. Life on the sea is what they knew. All of these Chamorro recruits enlisted in the Navy at American seaport towns or cities. Again, that's where we could expect lifelong seamen to take up residence. The greatest number signed up in New Bedford, Massachusetts (the whaling capital of the US) with a few joining in Boston. One enlisted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and another in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Since these Chamorro recruits were signing up in the American northeast, they all served in the naval forces of the Union. There may have been a small number of Chamorros who ended up in the South and could have joined the Confederate forces, but until we find documents and records we can't say for now.


Except for a few, most of these recruits identified as natives of Guam or the Ladrones (Marianas) have names that don't resemble any Chamorro family names we know of. Some have English names like Brown, Ogden and Rogers. This was because some Chamorro men wanted to avoid the problems that came with having a strange name in their new home. By adopting an English name, rather than keeping Pangelinan or Chargualaf, for example, they could avoid the strange reaction of Americans when they asked their names, and the interminable question how to spell it, when many a Chamorro seaman didn't know the answer himself.

This is also why most of them switched to the English form of their given names. Juan became John; José became Joseph.

Sometimes they kept their Chamorro surnames, but changed them a little to sound more English. A man whose last name was Nicholas could easily have been a San Nicolás, and someone named de la Cruz could simplify it and fit right in by calling himself Cross.

Spelling, also, was not consistent. In the list there is both a Peres and a Pérez. Both names would have been pronounced the same way by a Chamorro in those days.

Now, here are the names :

Jose Aglur, 19 (Aguon? Agulto? Aguilar?)

Thomas Andrews, 22

Francis Antonio, 26

José August - 23, a Navy patient in a Massachusetts Naval Hospital, affected with rubeola

John Brown, 25 - He had the tattoo of a naked female on his right arm.

Joseph Brown, 25

Benjamin Button, 24

Joseph Carter, 23

Leon Cepeda, 21

Joseph Corsman, 22

Joseph Cross, 25 - more than likely de la Cruz

Joseph Cruise, 33 - more than likely de la Cruz

Joseph Cruze, 20 - more than likely de la Cruz

Mariano de la Cruz, 20 - enlisted in New Bedford along with Joseph Garrido from Guam

Mario de la Cruz, 20

Philip de la Cruse, 18 - more than likely de la Cruz

Manuel Dernavie, 24 - a patient in a Navy hospital afflicted with rubeola

John Douty, 22

Alonzo Ernandes, 21 - in some records it is spelled Hernandez. He substituted for Mr Joel Lane from Frankfort, Maine. His face was marked with the effects of small pox. Records said he could read in Spanish. Perhaps he was afflicted in the smallpox epidemic on Guam in 1856. He would have been 13 years old or so.

Joseph Estredo, 20 - enlisted in New Bedford at the same time as John Flores and Benjamin Rosario, also from Guam

John Flores, 16 - the youngest so far!

Joseph Garido, 19 - more than likely Garrido. He was described as being a sail maker.

William Gruse, 24 - possibly Cruz

Antone Henry, 22 - the only one identified as being from Rota. The various tattoos on his body (whales, stars and anchors) are described. Definitely a seaman!

Vincente Leon, 18 - probably de León

John Lucas, 28

Peter Mindola, 23 - probably Mendiola. There is also a Peter Mendola, age 24, listed as a rubeola patient in a Navy hospital in 1863. They are probably the same person.

John C. Nicholas, 21 - could have been San Nicolás

Joseph Nichols, 38 - the oldest so far; also possibly San Nicolás

Henry Ogden, 21. He substituted for a sea captain, William B. Swan of Belfast, Maine

Antonio Peres, 22

Joseph Perez, 28

Marion Perris, 20 - a patient at a Naval Hospital in Virginia; probably Pérez

Andrew Rodgers, 20

Benjamin Rosario, 24

Peter Mindola (Mendiola?) from Guam
Recruitment Record 


Bernard Punzalan at came across a Peter Santos from Guam who, unlike everyone else who joined the Navy, enlisted in the US Army. He, too, was a substitute for another man.

AND SO.....

Did any other Chamorros join the US Army besides Peter Santos?

Did any Chamorro soldier or seaman die in battle in the Civil War?

Did any Chamorro serve in the Confederate forces?

Thursday, September 6, 2018


In Spanish times, after the end of the wars between the Chamorros and Spaniards, the population of Guam never exceeded 10,000 people. For many years, the population stood at 2000, 4000 or 6000.

You can imagine how much idle land there was, besides silence, with such a small population. Just think of it this way; imagine if Talofofo, which numbers today around 3000 people, was the only village on Guam, and that those 3000 people in Talofofo had the entire island, from Merizo to Yigo, to work and play in!

So one of the common features of island life in those days was the great availability of land for just about anyone. For sure, much land was claimed and legally owned. But much land was also unclaimed and lacked legal owners.

Many land documents indicate land "with no known owner(s)."

But it was also possible to acquire land simply by taking possession of it, without paying a dime. Just by occupying the land somehow, usually by doing some farming on it, you could become the legal owner, as long as no one else contested it.

In the land document above, someone named José finally files a legal claim in court. He describes that he came into ownership of the land "por mera ocupación," in Spanish, meaning, "by mere occupation." This type of land acquisition is seen over and over again in the land documents of Guam. In time, many of these land owners formalized their ownership of the land.

Here's an example how a document from 1917 shows how land acquired during Spanish times was gotten by the owner simply using it, and no one contesting it. If and availability were really tight, there'd be much more ownership litigation than there was. People did fight over land in those days, and yet we see how easy it was for some people to own land by simply moving in and using it.

this man acquired good farm land in Yigo during Spanish times

Old Guam had much unclaimed, undocumented land

Tuesday, September 4, 2018


Gi kareran kabåyo, ha li'e' si José na si Påle' ha bendise si kabåyo numero dos, 
(At the horse race, José saw that Father blessed horse number two,)

pues ha aposta si José salape'-ña gi ayo na kabåyo ya magåhet na mangånna!
(so José bet his money on that horse and truly he won!)

Pues ha li'e' si Påle' na ha bendise kabåyo numero sais. 
(Then he saw that Father blessed horse number six.)

Ha aposta salape'-ña gi kabåyo numero sais ya mangånna ta'lo!
(He bet his money on horse number six and won again!)

Ha li'e' si Påle' na ha bendise kabåyo numero tres. 
(He saw that Father blessed horse number three.)

Ha aposta todo i ginanå-ña na salåppe' gi kabåyo numero tres 
(He best all his winnings on horse number three)

lao ai sa' guiya na kabåyo i uttimo gi karera!
(but oh that horse came in last in the race!)

Lalålo' si José pues ha faisen si Påle', "Håfa na un bendise i kabåyo numero tres 
(José was angry so he asked Father, "Why did you bless horse number three)

lao guiya uttimo gi karera!"
(but he was last in the race!")

"Lahi-ho," ilek-ña si Påle'. "Ti hu bendise ayo na kabåyo na hu Såntos Oleos!"
("My son," Father said. "I didn't bless that horse; I gave it the Last Rites!")

* Såntos Oleos literally means the "Holy Oils" and it is used in the Last Rites to spiritually prepare a person for death. Of course, it's just a joke. Priests do not give animals the Last Rites.

Monday, September 3, 2018


Na' masi' na taotao sa' alunån-ña ha' siña ha toktok sa' pot taigue si kerida.

Poor guy; he can only hug his pillow because sweetheart is not there.

This is the Chamorro part of a song that also has a Carolinian part, sung by Dan Laniyo, a Carolinian from Saipan.


Nene esta* på'go i prendå-mo nu guåho
(Baby, up to now your gift to me)

gagaige ha' gi fondon kaohao-ho.
(is at the bottom of my chest.)

Yan i litratu-ta na dos ni hu pega gi liga
(And the  photograph of the two of us which I hung* on the wall)

kada hu atan nai nene ha na' suspiros yo'.
(every time I look at it baby it makes me sigh.)

Kulan mohon magåhet nene na gaige hao gi fi'on-ho
(It's as if you are truly by my side, baby)

sa' esta hu totoktok maolek alunån-ho.
(because I am giving my pillow a good hug.)


Esta. The original word is asta, from the Spanish hasta, meaning "until." The older people keep the original word more, while younger people tend to change asta to esta, which creates a bit of a problem because there is already a word esta, meaning "already." Esta guaha finiho "esta!"

Prenda. A gift a lover gives to his or her sweetheart. A word borrowed from Spanish.

Kaohao. This is a chest to place special things. In the old days, almost every home had a kaohao where the woman of the house stored special fabrics, jewelry, important documents, photos and so on.


Pega. This means "to place something," but I am rendering it "to hang something," as it makes better sense that way in English, although "to hang something" in Chamorro is kana'.